August 01, 2019


Calendars (desk for 2020): Get It Together! with Sarah’s Scribbles; Marjolein Bastin—Nature’s Inspiration. Andrews McMeel. $14.99 each.

     It is never too early, really, to start thinking about the year to come, and some desktop planners encourage thinking that way by beginning in the current year and carrying through into the next. Sarah Andersen’s amusing and often perceptive Sarah’s Scribbles cartoons are what tie together a 16-month, spiral-bound desktop planning book that runs from September 2019 through December 2020. And they are only part of the attraction of this well-designed week-by-week look at times yet to come. The back cover of the book features a pouch in which receipts, notes, and things that don’t quite fit into the categories of the planner can be neatly stored. The front of the book is a page of stickers that fit the many moods of Sarah’s Scribbles perfectly: there are, for example, three exclamation points and two jagged-edge proclamations of “DEADLINE!” There are also stickers (one apiece) of Andersen’s recurring animal characters (dog, cat, rabbit), plus a few stickers showing Andersen’s cartoon alter ego herself (e.g., one in which she appears on the verge of hysteria and is about to clash together a pair of cymbals as large as her entire body). The point of this planner, and of desktop planners in general, is neatly encapsulated on its first actual page (that is, the page after the stickers): Andersen’s character is balancing on a ball while juggling items representing the demands of everyday life (a book, an alarm clock, cooking implements, etc.). The whole notion of desktop planners is to make that mundane juggling act easier – and this is one way in which these open-flat books are superior to all the electronic tracking systems out there. It is simply simpler to see a week at a glance, and to turn pages quickly to the next week or next month, when using a printed book, than to do an electronic search by jumping ahead or back, and there is something about touching a desktop planner’s physical pages that promotes connection with the real world in which the listed events are going to occur (or did). One neat thing about the Sarah’s Scribbles planner is that each day of every week gets three rectangles for making notes and setting up meetings, not just one. One column is labeled “appointments/misc.,” one is called “stuff to do,” and one is headed “my social life.” Yes, there is bound to be overlap among the columns, and of course everyone using the book can interpret the headings differently, but just the existence of the subdivision is helpful for reminding you, day after day and week after week and page after page, that there is more to life than any single descriptor can indicate. Since every two-page spread also includes a Sarah’s Scribbles multi-panel story and a couple of amusing marginal drawings, there is a lot to enjoy throughout the planner. And there is just enough subtle thoughtfulness to keep users grounded: one cartoon story shows a door labeled “2018,” followed by a panel in which Andersen’s character is smashed by a boxing glove; then a door is labeled “2019” and the same thing happens; and then there is a door labeled “2020,” after which the character is shown banged-up and bandaged – but the final panel shows her, with a determined look on her face, wearing boxing gloves of her own. There is not a single word in the sequence, but the idea of being ready to take on the new year despite reverses in past years comes through loudly, clearly, amusingly, and with just the right touch of awareness of reality.

     Electronic organizers and planners tend to look very much alike, but one advantage to a desktop planner is that it can reflect your personal moods and preferences and allow you to indulge them all year. The beautiful 12-month, spiral-bound, open-flat Nature’s Inspiration planner by Marjolein Bastin, for example, is very different from the wry, cartoonish, take-life-seriously-but-not-too-seriously Sarah Andersen book. The whole focus of Bastin’s planner is the beauty of the animal world around us – not the large, majestic animals on which so many nature-focused illustrations are centered, but such smaller creatures as birds, butterflies, chicks, piglets, and the foliage surrounding so many of them and giving them places to live. Like the Sarah’s Scribbles planner, Nature’s Inspiration has a pouch for storing papers – here, inside the front cover. It also has features of its own, such as moon-phase notes and a built-in bookmark. And Bastin’s warmly evocative prose appears throughout, starting at the beginning of the year: “One of the benefits of a tradition is that you don’t have to think about whether you feel like participating. Tradition is tradition! And so we head out to go birdwatching on the floodplains surrounding the river IJssel in the Netherlands. It’s just something we do every first week of January.” The text, set in small script-like type, is scattered around each illustrative page, with the majority of each page taken up by Bastin’s absolutely beautiful art: paintings that often look more realistic than reality. One page shows a squirrel at the bottom right, a deer at the bottom left, and feathers in between them and elsewhere. Another page is entirely floral, each individual flower drawn lovingly: “Tired of looking at my empty desk, I felt the urge to pick some spring flowers and place them in a glass in front of me.” Another page shows three robins enjoying the fruit of a berry tree: “If you want to do your birds a favor you should plant some red chokeberry trees in your garden.” The little bits of advice and thoughtfulness complement the art wonderfully well – always on left-hand pages, while right-hand ones lay out each week at a glance, giving every day a lined rectangular space with enough room for notes, comments, or thoughts of your own to fill out the year as it progresses. In many ways, the Andersen and Bastin desktop planners are as different as can be: certainly their sensibilities differ significantly. But in other ways, they spring from the same impetus: to trace the year while looking ahead to the part of it that has not yet occurred, providing easy-to-use organizational space while also reflecting specific visual elements tailored to different users’ feelings about and attitudes toward everyday life and the events that make each day a different sort of challenge and, potentially, a different sort of pleasure.

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